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Catching eels with my grandmother {Part 1}

Posted on : 07-07-2009 | By : Cindy | In : Maori kai, Traditions

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eel3I first tasted smoked eel last Christmas. Some friends hand-delivered the delicacy, wrapped in foil, and described their nocturnal adventures catching it from a stream about an hour’s drive from Auckland. “You mean you drove down there in the middle of the night?” I asked. “Sure – that’s where you find them”, they replied matter-of-factly. Give me a deli any day, I thought!  ..c

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In this post, my father-in-law Haare Williams, tells of his growing-up experiences catching eels with his Maori grandmother (kuia). This is Part 1


 

NZeel“When are we going, e Ma?. I was anxious to get going.  The build up had been intense over the past few days, and I was excited about the prospect of catching eels on the banks of the Nukuhou River at Matakerepu, some eight miles inland.

“Apopo, a tahira ranei.”

“Why not tonight?”

“Ehara tenei i te po e ngau ai te tuna.  Kaua e kaika.  Koina te mate o te mokopuna pihikete.  Tuatahi me ata mahi nga noke hei mounu i mua i te haere tawhiti nei.  Taihoa.”

“When then?”

“When the night sky tells us.  She said. “You see, e moko, we have one night to do this, so we have to do it right.”

“We wait then?”

“Ae.”

We went to the bush and collected worms, not just ordinary worms, but large, snake looking, wriggly worms.  Rimaha and I dug them out of the layers of soil deep in the bush behind our whare.  These worms had thrived for many years in the rotting accumulations of leaves.  All we had to do was scrape away the top layers of soil and there they were.

My thing was to collect those wriggly creatures and place them into a wet bag.  They were covered over with wet leaves to keep them fresh. These crawlies were kept in their moist billets until the day before our trip to the riverbanks at nearby Matakerepu.

“So. e Ma when is the right time to fish for eels.”

Wairemana explained “No Whiro ke tenei po, ehara i te po e tika ana ki te haere ki te mahi tuna.”

“So this is Whiro’s night.  Does that mean that the moon is not yet right for the tuna(eels) to run?”

“Kao.  When the moon is in that new-moon shape, just a crescent, it means this is the night of Whiro when neither the night nor the day is good for anything.”

“We have all the worms we need in the bag, e Ma.”

“Ka pai.”

“Tomorrow e moko we will thread the soft muka through the bodies of the worms and then we will be ready for Oua, the fourth night of the moon when it’s the right time for us to go and catch them.”

“Do you put hooks on the ends of the muka?”

“Kao.  You see when the bait is dipped into the swirling water of the Nukuhou River, the eels will bite into them and their teeth get tangled in the muka, and all I have to do then is flick them ashore.  Once they’re airborne, they release and they land up on the dry land. Easy.”

“Can I do that?”

“Of course,” she smiled quizzically.  “But your job, e moko with your koro, is to chase them when I land them, give a sharp bang on the tail, and gather them up, before they wriggle back into the water. . .”

Part 2 of this story is on my next post

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Related articles:

Maori diet of eel could help stop diabetes rise | NZ Herald
See Haare’s other story about cultivating Kumara

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